Unique on the left

Dave Vincent reviews 'David John Douglass, anarchist-syndicalist coalminer: reviews and articles appearing in the Weekly Worker' (pp253, £12)

The Weekly Worker is so unique on the left for publishing letters and articles even against their stances on particular issues that a regular contributor has produced a book of a selection of his articles/reviews that have appeared in the paper! No doubt there are other contributors who could do the same, but I doubt the subjects they cover would be as wide.

Personally I eagerly turn to the letters page first in the Weekly Worker, and I always hope to see one from David - on anything, such is his credible take on whatever he writes about! David has many detractors (a great number of whom just prefer to ignore, rather than answer, his legitimate challenges/disagreements).

David is a proud “anarchist-syndicalist” and long-serving coal miner and activist in the National Union of Mineworkers, who was politically active before, during and after the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85. But an immediate problem with the book is that there is no list of contents and no index. You just have to plough through. His articles/letters are published in date order, so that is some assistance.

Not surprisingly many of those articles are about the battles in the mining industry and he either wades in to TV programmes or books written about this industry (especially the Great Strike) that he argues are a travesty of the truth, or a misunderstanding of the tactical decisions made - or to give publicity to truthful but lesser known books about the various experiences of the strike. David is a staunch partisan for the working class and the miners, so he does not try to be neutral - he was right in the middle of it, after all.

We need articles correcting the lies still told about the 84-85 strike. It was a titanic battle whose defeat still shows itself in a greatly reduced membership and weak union movement to this day. David is not getting any younger, so the trouble he has taken to write so much by way of setting the record straight will benefit future generations born after that strike, who need to be able to find the reality and truth of the situation (this strike nearly won - twice - for example!).

David respects Arthur Scargill, but will not gloss over mistakes he thinks Arthur made as NUM president - such as the Battle of Orgreave.1 Related to this are some articles on the Durham Miners Gala. I have never managed to get there yet and was fascinated to read of its history, the radical speakers it has, the reception Neil Kinnock once got, etc.

It near kills David to acknowledge the existence of a book called Blackshirts in Geordieland and that there was some support for British fascists in his beloved region, given the street battles with them David has been involved in. Furthermore, to the annoyance of climate change activists, he makes the case for clean coal - the technology was there and could have been improved further. He takes issue with Extinction Rebellion supporters and their harassment of anyone wearing a ‘Coal, not dole’ badge.

Had the Great Strike of 1984‑85 been held today, we would see XR and the Greens urging the Tory government and police to shut down the pits. Perhaps XR and Insulate Britain would be trying to stop the pickets getting to their pits. If anyone disagrees with me here, let us hear what they would have done, had that strike taken place today.

In ‘The fall of an icon’, written in 2012, he deals with the rise and demise of Tommy Sheridan - particularly his role as leader of the anti-poll tax campaign in Scotland, and then all Britain. Tommy made the disastrous decision to sue the News of the World for revealing his attendance at sex swinger parties (true). Where would he be today, had he let it go (and die away) and stuck to what he did best, inspiring millions to resist the poll tax, then today’s battles? Sad that he fostered illusions in Scottish nationalism and ironic that his anti poll-tax actions helped promote the Scottish National Party - which backed the campaign when other parties (and most unions) did not.

There are many such superb pages, which no other paper would have published.

David also reproduces a few articles about the conflict in Ireland - concerning especially the 1970s and the so-called peace agreement - and his criticisms of most of the far left’s stance against the violence of the nationalists. He covers ‘Free Derry’ and much more. A stand-out article is his six-page review of Harry McCallion’s Undercover war: Britain’s special forces and their secret battle against the IRA from a man who served with the paras, Special Air Service, Royal Ulster Constabulary and intelligence. A lot is kept back, but a lot also revealed of the dirty stuff that went on - especially the infiltration to the highest levels of the IRA. Personally I have some Irish Catholic ancestry, despite being brought up as a Protestant and I consider myself 100% English. But all this is food for thought - not that I am totally ignorant of what went on.

One of the best anti-European Union polemics I have ever read is David’s review of VN Gelis’s book How the IMF broke Greece: eyewitness reports and the role of the fake left. One sentence by David reads: “One of the massive sea changes of my life has been the conversion of ‘the left’ in general, from nigh universal opposition to the whole idea of a capitalist EEC, to one of support and defence.” With the majority of the working class I personally voted ‘leave’ and was also stunned at this sea change.

Amongst other pieces, David tackles syndicalism and its defeat, looks at a book about riots and even the NUM’s support in 2015 for the candidacy of Yvette Cooper as leader of the Labour Party! There are many other articles on other issues, but I hope I have given a fair description and induced readers to buy the last few copies from the initial publication (apparently only 50 were produced!). I would like him to write an article regarding one comment David made in the book: that is his defence of the rebellion of Kronstadt. That has often been dismissed as the work of counterrevolutionaries, yet this ‘rebellion’ was ruthlessly put down by the Bolsheviks in an early test of what level of dissent is allowable after a socialist revolution. As David supports those dismissed as counterrevolutionaries, I want to hear more from him on this, given his anarchism.

And, given the large number of his articles the Weekly Worker has published, what does he think of the CPGB? In his introduction to the book David heaps huge praise on The Leninist (forerunner of the Weekly Worker) and its support of the struggle in Ireland. He admires the declaration of today’s CPGB as being headed by a ‘provisional’ committee - unlike most of the tiny parties of today, which expect to rule, come the revolution. David rightly praises the CPGB for its unstinting support of the miners.

He says of the CPGB today (and I would argue that this holds true for the Labour Party): “Of late the paper has reflected the liberalisation of the largely London-based liberal left, absorbed and occupied with climate panic and eco-ism, pro-‘remain’ obsessions, Covid conformity and much else.”

But David concludes: “Nonetheless, it remains the most serious paper of the left, especially on theoretical issues and historical re-evaluation”. Hear, hear!

Dave Vincent

The book is published jointly by the author and Mining Communities Advice Service. To purchase a copy (£15 post paid), email David at douglassdavid705@gmail.com

  1. In this regard please note the annual march by the Orgreave Truth and Justice Campaign being held on Saturday June 18 in Sheffield. Readers will note that the Trade Union Congress has chosen this day to hold its first (and last?) ‘Cost of living crisis’ march in London. Well, as can be seen in this book, the TUC has always sold out the miners - in 1926, 1984-85, 1992, etc. I will be in Sheffield on that date, along with my protest samba band, having already taken part in three ‘Cost of living crisis’ protests before the TUC woke up - and will continue doing so after they go back to sleep.↩︎